Friday, February 19, 1999

Once a power, UMass now struggling to score

Ketner, Clarke disappoint in senior seasons

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Massachusetts, which plays host to Xavier on Saturday, has been one of the bigger disappointments in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season.

        With seniors Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke struggling, the Minutemen have been battling to get to a .500 record since starting out 1-4.

        “When your two seniors struggle that way, then your team struggles that way,” coach Bruiser Flint said. “I hope we can turn it around just for those guys. They're great kids, they work hard, they've just had tough years. I hope they snap out of it. I've been waiting for a while.”

        Traditionally one of the marquee teams in the Atlantic 10, Massachusetts has been to a postseason tournament the past nine years, including seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances — a streak that is about to end unless it wins the A-10 Tournament and gets the automatic bid.

        After John Calipari's last team went 35-2 in 1995-96, Flint — Calipari's top assistant — took over and in three seasons, his teams have gone 19-14, 21-11 and now 11-14.

        Despite going 12-4 in the league last season and returning four starters, UMass is 7-6 and trying to avoid its first losing A-10 record since 1989.

        Ketner was a preseason first-team All-Atlantic 10 pick and Clarke third-team. The Minutemen were predicted to finish second in the A-10 East Division behind Temple; they currently are in third place behind Temple and Rhode Island.

        Last season, Ketner was first-team all-conference and this fall was the fourth-leading returning scorer (15.2) and fifth-leading returning rebounder (7.4) in the league.

        This season, he is averaging just 10.3 points to go with 7.5 rebounds. There have been games like Wednesday night at George Washington, when he finished with two points on 1-of-3 shooting and five rebounds in 19 minutes.

        Clarke, who averaged 12.6 points last season, is averaging 9.1 and finished with just six at GW. He is playing with a stress fracture in his foot, Flint said.

        “I know Lari put a lot of pressure on himself early, about carrying the team,” Flint said. “Both of them have done that. They think they've had to carry more of the load than they really had to and they pressed. ... For me, it's tough to watch because those guys are seniors and they've always won here.”

        Both have shot the ball poorly. Ketner, who shoots mostly inside, is at 42 percent, Clarke at 37.1 percent.

        None of this means the Minutemen are going to roll over for Xavier on Saturday.

        UMass is 11th in the Atlantic 10 in scoring, but it is first in three-point field goal defense, second in scoring defense and third in field goal percentage defense.

        “We guard you,” Flint said. “Guarding is not our problem. We just struggle so bad offensively. A lot of it has to do with poor shooting.”

        Just by some.

        Junior guard Monty Mack, who is third in the A-10 in scoring (18.1 ppg), has picked up the slack.

        “I'm wearing the kid down,” Flint said. “I'm driving him crazy. I'm not even looking to take him out of the game unless he asks for a breather.

        “I thought he would be better, but he's been better than I ever expected. He's making big shots. Everybody's gearing their defense to stop him. He's improved by leaps and bounds.”

        So has Chris Kirkland, who scored a team-high 26 points at George Washington and is averaging 8.6 points.

        “I knew Monty would be good; I never expected this from Chris Kirkland,” Flint said. “Night in and night out, I know what I'm getting from those two guys.”

        But that's about it.


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- Once a power, UMass now struggling to score
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